Archive for June, 2010

Legal watch.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

We have a couple of interesting cases going on at the moment.

First of all is the sentencing retrial of Laura Ashley Hall. Ms. Hall was convicted of evidence tampering and “hindering apprehension” in the death of Jennifer Cave; however, her five-year sentence was overturned on appeal. The killer, Colton Pitonyak, is serving a 55 year sentence for the murder.

I’m sort of fascinated by this case; I can’t even get women to date me, and this loser Pitonyak is able to find women who will help him cut up bodies? What’s his secret?

Interesting case #2: The cops have arrested Maurice Michael McKnight on his outstanding manslaughter warrant.

Mr. McKnight is a dancer at our local LaBare strip club. LaBare does appear to be a chain of strip clubs that cater to women; I am not personally familiar with these clubs, but to each her own. As a side note, I can remember when that strip club was a series of fairly decent restaurants, including a Serrano’s. I can also remember when that strip mall was actually a nice place to shop.

Anyway, Mr. McKnight is alleged to have gotten into an altercation with a male patron of the club. (A reliable source tells me that the fact there was a male patron of LaBare is pretty odd by itself; in her experience, LaBare does not encourage male patronage.) Allegedly, Mr. McKnight struck the other gentleman (specifically “slapped [him] in the face”), who died several days later of a brain hemorrhage.  It seems odd that a “slap in the face” would result in a brain hemorrhage, unless the slap resulted in a fall; if that is the case, that detail is missing from the Statesman coverage.

On a more serious and sadder note, Jonathan Green’s execution has been stayed by the Court of Criminal Appeals, as there are some questions about his mental competence. Green was convicted of killing a 12-year old girl, Christina LeAnn Neal.

Edited to add: Statesman comment:

You can buy all the materials needed to properly dismember a body at Home Depot. I read about it in a book about Jeffery Dahmer R.I.P. and also saw it on the hit teevee show “Breaking Bad”. I won’t divulge details here b/c there are some real sicko’s on the internets…

I see. So the “sicko’s on the internets” can’t read books or catch “Breaking Bad” reruns on the teevee?

The stupid, it burns.

Art, damn it, art! watch (#11 in a series).

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A former Royal Navy Sea Harrier jump-jet that saw active service in the skies over Bosnia has become the centrepiece of an exhibition at Tate Britain.

The plane, which would have cost £12 million when new, has been suspended from the ceiling in one of the grand sculpture galleries, looking more like a trussed bird than a deadly piece of kit.

Indeed, all of the plane’s wartime paintwork has been stripped off to reveal a reflective metallic surface so visitors ‘can’t detach themselves from their own reaction’ to the lethal machine.

Banner’s previous work has included written transcriptions of the frame-by-frame action in Top Gun and an installation of Airfix models of all war planes currently in service in the world. She has also made sculptures of punctuation marks.

Photos of the installation at the first link.

(Hattip: Bayou Renaissance Man.)

Miscellaneous crap.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

The City of Austin has flushed the low-flow toilet rebate program. However, you can still get a free low-flow toilet: you just have to fill out an application and, if you’re approved, pick up your toilet from an approved toilet vendor.

The 2010 Bulwer-Lytton contest results are out.

Edited to add 1: Oh, what the heck. By way of Ace of Spades, a WP review of the greatest concert ever. Where “greatest concert ever” is defined as “complete disaster”.

Edited to add 2: Derek Lowe has a new post up in the “How Not To Do It” series. It appears that a lab at the University of Missouri underwent explosive renovations after some hydrogen and oxygen got together for a hot date. Photos of the aftermath at the link.

Edited to add 3: The HouChron has interrupted their “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” watch to let us know that Dr. Demento is ending his radio show. Why, yes, this is the same story that Slashdot and Lawrence brought you almost a month ago.

Edited to add 4: As I’ve noted in the past, my newspaper reading during the weekends can be spotty. So I missed this Ben Wear article in the Statesman about the MetroRail ridership figures. (Hattip: Blue Dot Blues, by way of Battleswarm.)

Edited to add 5: Headline from the HouChron: “Dear Abby says what to do when grandma spoils the kids”. Somehow, I suspect Dear Abby’s answer does not involve a Taser.

Speaking of Popehat, I think this is a great post by Patrick, but I’m a very bad person; whenever I read the phrase “Res Ipsa Loquitur”, all I can think of is “Ipsa this, you p—y little b—h!


Monday, June 28th, 2010

One part of me thinks this is kind of nifty. One part of me thinks people who buy this should be taxed at the 100% level, just like people who purchase $4,295 tone arms.

So I report, you decide: $80,000 Jeep “clones“.

Old McDonald had a right, E-I-E-I-O.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

The news is still coming in. I’ll try to link to good commentary as it comes in, and I’ll have some thoughts of my own up later, probably tonight.

I have my own concerns about the decision and What It All Means, but for right now: There. Will. Be. Cake.

Edited to add 1: For right now, I think the best source of information I can point folks to is Sebastian’s live blog over at Snowflakes in Hell. Also noteworthy: Jacob Sullum over at Reason’s “Hit and Run”.

Edited to add 2: SayUncle is in his usual short but pithy commentary mode. Some good stuff there, too.

Edited to add 3: As promised, some thoughts of my own. With these and $2, I think you can get a large cup of coffee in most places.

  • When the decision in Heller came down, I was at my very first Smith and Wesson Collector’s Association convention. When the decision in McDonald came down, I was…at work. I feel slightly cheated.
  • Like Heller, this should not have been a 5-4 decision. This should have been a 9-0 decision. It is a sad and awful thing that four justices of the United States Supreme Court do not understand basic written English. Especially appalling is Justice Stevens’ dissent. Damon Root has a good post over at the Reason blog, but let me single out this section of the dissent:
  • …even apart from the States’ long history of firearms regulation and its location at the core of their
    police powers, this is a quintessential area in which federalism ought to be allowed to flourish without this Court’s meddling. Whether or not we can assert a plausible constitutional basis for intervening, there are powerful reasons why we should not do so.

    Echoing Root’s point, Stevens apparently believes that the Second Amendment is somehow special and different from the others, in a way that allows experimentation and tinkering. Is there anyone who thinks Stevens would endorse experimenting with the First Amendment?  (Sebastian has another solid post up about Scalia’s shredding of Stevens’ “reasoning”.)

  • With the decision being this close, could it be reversed if the makeup of the court changes substantially? Kagan’s replacing Stevens, so that won’t change anything. But what if we lose Thomas or Scalia? I was talking this over with my good friend James at work; my point was that the court generally sets a pretty high bar before they overturn established precedent (the word I was looking for was “stare decisis“). But it isn’t unheard of: the Supreme Court ruled in 1940 (Minersville School District v. Gobitis) that it was perfectly okay to force Jehovah’s Witnesses to salute the flag. (In a 8-1 decision, no less.) Somebody came to their senses, because they reversed that decision in 1943. (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, and that was 6-3.) (I’m not really happy about linking to Wikipedia for summaries of these cases, but I’m just trying to make a quick and dirty point.)
  • What worries me the most is that we’re going to let our guard down. Heller and McDonald did serious damage to the anti-Second Amendment crowd. But they were not death blows. The most dangerous time in a fight is when you have your enemy pinned; if you’re not well trained, you let your guard down, and your enemy has nothing to lose.

    What does the right to keep and bear arms mean if there’s no one making guns and gun parts because there’s no market? Or all the gun makers are driven out of business by lawsuits? (Yes, I know the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was supposed to stop that. Good luck.) I can easily imagine Daley, or some other politician: “Sure, you have the right to bear arms. Hope you enjoy that 1,000% tax on ammunition and components. Oh, did I say 1,000%? Let’s try 10,000%.” (Don’t accuse me of giving these people ideas; Schumer’s proposed this before.)

    We are not out of the woods. We will not be out of the woods until we establish (or re-establish) a pro-gun culture, until the pro-gun control organizations close due to lack of funds, and until Daley the Younger is where he really belongs; in a prison cell.

    I signed up for the Second Amendment Foundation today; I encourage you to do the same. (I really should have done that sooner.) I’ve already joined the Texas State Rifle Association; actually, I joined a couple of weeks ago after hearing Alice Tripp speak to the Austin Rifle Club. (If you have a chance to hear her speak, don’t pass it up; she’s great.) Recent problems aside, I still believe the NRA is an organization worthy of your support.

    We can take a day to enjoy our cake (or pie, if that’s how you roll; Whipped Cream Difficulties is ecumenical on the cake/pie question) and celebrate, but we can’t let our guard down now.

Byrd, Byrd, Byrd, Byrd is the word…

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Obit watch: Senator Robert Byrd.

(I cannot tell a lie: I live to make those sort of jokes.)

Also among the dead: former Texas governor Dolph Briscoe. Lawrence has more about that at his Battleswarm site.

(Hattips: Mom, who provided the word about The Byrd first, and Lawrence, who tied with my mother in tipping me off about Briscoe.)

Dynamo hum.

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

I wasn’t originally going to post about this, since the story was linked from Slashdot and other places. However, it came up at dinner last night; Andrew was asking me about it this afternoon, and I promised him a link.

So: here’s a link to The Register‘s article on authenticating recordings using AC power line frequency fluctuations.

At the Metropolitan Police’s digital forensics lab in Penge, south London, scientists have created a database that has recorded these deviations once every one and a half seconds for the last five years. Over a short period they form a unique signature of the electrical frequency at that time, which research has shown is the same in London as it is in Glasgow.

On receipt of recordings made by the police or public, the scientists are able to detect the variations in mains electricity occuring at the time the recording was made. This signature is extracted and automatically matched against their ENF database, which indicates when it was made.

I’d want to see a lot more scientific validation of this before I’d consider it acceptable as evidence. One of the points I made during the dinner discussion is that much of modern forensics is based on sloppy or incomplete science. For example:

Balko is all over this, too; you should be reading him regularly if you care about this stuff.

Speaking of baseball…

Friday, June 25th, 2010

…the Astros are holding on to 5th place.

Baltimore is at 20-52, .278 winning percentage, on track to win 45.036 games this season. That’s only about 117 losses, but stay tuned; there’s still a chance they can hit the 120 loss mark.

We are amused.

Friday, June 25th, 2010

We watch very little television these days, to the point where we haven’t even hooked up our converter boxes to our analog television yet.

What TV we do watch (Cops, America’s Most Wanted, the occasional episode of Nova or the American Experience during the three months out of the year our local PBS affiliate isn’t begging for money: and we have recently found that The Good Guys kicks over our giggle-box), we watch on the MacBook using an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid and Elgato’s EyeTV software. The EyeTV software gives us very TIVO-like features, as well as the ability to export and even burn recordings to DVD (as well as skipping commercials). Indeed, we are considering an upgrade to a new television (now that prices have come down considerably) and hanging a Mac Mini off the new TV as a fake TIVO.

The point of this tale is that we were highly entertained by an email from Elgato this morning: the company has released a version of EyeTV with a “Vuvuzela Filter”. Not that this matters much to us; we consider soccer to be even worse than baseball, but the idea brought a rare early morning smile to our face.

Hook, line, and sinker.

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The Florida Marlins (34-36, .473 winning percentage, 4th in the division standings) have fired their manager, Fredi Gonzalez, and two of his assistant coaches.

See also: victories, Pyrrhic.

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Capital Metro, our local transit agency, has spent $61,000 to date fighting a legal case against OSHA.

The case involved a $500 fine.

But wait, there’s more: because of the legal arguments Cap Metro made in the case, there’s a possibility that the agency could lose federal funding.

Another victory like this…

On a lighter note…

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

I promised some folks a link to this over dinner last night.

There’s no question in my mind that Lucille Ball was a smart and incredibly talented woman. But I have trouble visualizing her in a noir film. (It helps some that she’s apparently the secretary for the private eye character, rather than the femme fatale.)

(Here’s a link to the trailer on YouTube. Embedding is disabled.)

(I’d order it, but Amazon wants a little much for it, and I want In the Heat of the Night a little bit more at the moment. I’ve always liked the way Sidney Poitier delivers that line, “They call me Mister Tibbs!”)